Everyone understands the importance of having a Web site. Unfortunately, only a few know the important ingredients that every agent’s Web site must have if it’s to generate leads.

If you already have a Web site or are planning on launching one, following is a checklist of 10 elements you need to maximize your exposure and your leads.

#1: Useful information
Most online insurance shoppers start out looking for information. Make sure your Web site contains educational and informative content that shoppers will find useful. Because many agent Web sites don’t bother to educate their prospects, adding useful content will help you stand out from the crowd.

So what should you write about? Look at it from the shopper’s point of view. Start by explaining the process and different plans available. You may also want to include a glossary of common terms. And don’t forget to ask your carriers for pre-written material you can use.

#2: About us
Look around at other agent Web sites, and you’ll see that their “about us” sections are either very skimpy or full of fluff — clearly, they’re missing an opportunity to build trust with Web site visitors.

Provide a brief history about your agency, including any certifications and awards you’ve earned. And if you have a staff, don’t forget to list their names to show there are real people serving your clients.

#3: Photos
Photographs help prospects and clients connect with you — especially if they’ve never met you. Remember to add professional photos of you and other staff members.

There is one cautionary note: Avoid cutesy and overly casual photos. Although some shoppers may find them amusing, most consumers prefer to deal with a professional when it comes to their money and health.

#4: Testimonials
Client testimonials are powerful. If you don’t have any, it’s time to pick up the phone and ask for them. After you get a testimonial from a client, make sure to get a signed authorization allowing you to use it.

In addition to having a testimonials page, you should sprinkle one or two testimonials on each Web page. Whenever possible, try to use the client’s full name in the tagline.

#5: Carrier information
Consumers want options, and they identify with brand names. Knowing that you’re signed up with well-known carriers helps assure shoppers that you’re reputable and offer choices.

Instead of listing the carriers you offer, consider including your carriers’ logos on your home page. Top producers have learned that it’s an effective way to catch your visitors’ attention.

#6: Privacy policy
Identity theft has made most shoppers more cautious about sharing their personal information — and rightly so. One way to alleviate those concerns is by providing a privacy policy that reaffirms your commitment to safeguarding your clients’ personal information.

#7: Organized navigation
Your Web site’s navigation refers to the way you’ve organized and connected the pages in your Web site. Ideally, you should be able to reach all the pages on your site from your home page — with just one or two mouse clicks.

Your Web site should also have a purpose. In your case, your site’s goal should be to guide visitors toward a submitted application.

To accomplish this goal, it’s crucial that every page have a clear call to action. It can be a highlighted link or a button that takes them closer to your quote engine or online application.

This is Sales 101: Don’t risk losing potential clients by forgetting to ask for a sale.

#8: Quote engine
All your content will educate prospects and get them interested. But if they’re ready to take the next step, a Web-based quote engine allows them to proceed with their shopping and buying decision.

In fact, having a quote engine is like hiring sales agents who never sleep. Prospects can compare plans and consider different options on their own — which is how many online shoppers prefer to do it.

A quote engine can also drastically reduce the time it takes for you to run quotes and generate proposals.

#9: E-applications
Many quote engines already come with built-in online applications for many of their carriers and plans. If you decide against investing in a quote engine, you should consider adding a secure online application form on your Web site to gather lead data from prospects.

#10: Search engine optimization (SEO)
Finally, you should take the time to optimize your Web site so that it ranks higher on search engines such as Google, Ask, and Yahoo. The simplest way to do this is by making sure that you add your keywords to your page title, page description, header, sub-headers, and body text.

What are keywords? Keywords are what online consumers type into search engines. Keywords are also what search engines use to organize what goes on the first pages of their results.

So take the time to consider what keywords your clients are using and make sure to include them into your Web pages.

This last step will help you increase your page rankings so that Google, Yahoo, and other search engines begin sending more online insurance shoppers to your site.

If you implement the 10 steps listed above, more visitors should stay on your site, turn into leads, and eventually submit completed applications — often without taking more than a few minutes of your time.

Jeremiah Desmarais is vice president of marketing at Norvax. He can be reached at jdemarais@norvax.com.